Some domestic airlines are investigating the sale of their tickets at outrageous fares to travelers by touts, after creating scarcity by blocking flight seats with book on old system.
Book on hold system is whereby a passenger intending to travel would go online and book a flight and delay the payment for some hours. Some airlines allow this for between six and 24 hours.
THISDAY learnt that some of the touts who pose as agents and protocol officers usually book tens of seats and about one or two hours to the flight time, they begin to sell the tickets at outrageous prices to passengers who are desperate to travel.
Airlines make losses in the illicit transaction because the touts who block the seats may not be able to sell all the blocked seats before the flight time and in the last minutes of the flight the seats would be dropped as unsold.
This explains why some passengers would board a flight that was declared full and see many empty seats in the aircraft, most times, to their disappointment and feeling of being shortchanged.
The airline ground staff may have a fully booked flight, not knowing that out of 144 seats of a Boeing 737, for example, touts have booked 40 seats, which if they fail to sell would remain empty at the time of the flight.
A senior airline official who didn’t wish to be quoted, told THISDAY that his airline has started investigating the activities of the touts.
“We noticed that touts book flights with fictitious names, but what we have done is that we appointed officials who examine the bookings. Most often the touts use the same details to book the flights and when we trace them and get convinced that they are fake bookings, we cancel them.
“We have also found out that other airlines sponsor some of them to block the seats of their rival airlines; so when the seats are deemed full and come to the counter to buy ticket, you will be told the flight is full; you won’t have any other choice than to go to the next airline.
“So we adopted the system of monitoring all the flights and cancelling those book on holds that we are convinced are fake. We also send some personnel to go and interact with the touts, pretending to be touts themselves and extract information from them,” the airline official told THIDAY.
THISDAY spoke to one of the agents who denied any wrong doing and said the empty seats found after the flights seats have been declared full were those that were booked, but the passengers failed to turn up for the flight or those who made book on hold, but failed to pay for it
THISDAY learnt that airlines such as Ibom Air do not do allow book on hold and spoke to the Chief Operating Officer of Ibom Air, George Uriesi who described it as loss on seats and revenue.
“We started with book and pay and we don’t intend to do book on hold, but maybe later after we have become stronger and we cannot allow for more than 24 hours. You can lose seats on book on hold. I am aware of the mischief that goes on at the General Aviation Terminal (GAT) and MMA2 (domestic terminals of the Lagos airport,” Uriesi said.
THISDAY also spoke with the industry consultant, Amos Akpan, on the matter, who explained, “Touting at the airports implies that people want to help you, but they are actually making money from you. Some of these people were ex-staff of aviation agencies and companies before they were disengaged. They are assisted by their former colleagues who are still engaged and they get share of the money they make in return.”
He said in order to stem possible losses by the illicit activities of the touts, airlines engage in controlled overbooking, whereby they sell more seats than that are available in the aircraft and have the passengers on standby who are later allowed to board to take over the empty seats created by the touts.